Ideally we’d always get exactly what we want when we buy something. But we don’t always get what we want or need. Not at first, anyway. But you can learn a lot about companies by how they respond when things go wrong.

Do you just want to get it off your chest and let people know what happened? If so, there are plenty of places where you can vent. Review sites are everywhere—general ones, and a growing number that are for specific industry niches. And there’s social media.

(A quick aside, from the perspective of someone who sees more than my fair share of complaints (it’s an occupational hazard): When you’re reading someone’s complaint on social media, or a review on a website, remember that there’s another side to the story and the truth is likely somewhere between the two.)

If you want some sort of resolution, social media can sometimes work. Many large companies monitor their social-media platforms and respond quickly to complaints. I’ve complained this way myself; sometimes it really is the best way to get a reply.

But often a direct approach is more productive if you’re looking for a company to step up and make things right. A business sometimes reacts defensively if you’ve named and shamed them on social media, making them less likely to meet you halfway.

Here are a few tips to help improve your chances of getting a reply, from the perspective of an organization that is involved in over 1,000 individual complaints each year.

  Remember that whatever happened was probably unintentional. Almost no one goes into business planning to provide bad service or products. In most cases, the company would like the opportunity to make things right.

•  Decide what you want. It may be a refund, an exchange for a different product, or for the job to be fixed. Your best chance of getting what you want is to ask for it.

  Know your rights and responsibilities. If you bought a product without any warranty, if you weren’t clear with a service company about your expectations, or if you contributed to any damage, your rights may be affected. This doesn’t mean that you can’t still ask for something. Many companies will still try to make things right, but it may change the outcome.

  Gather the evidence. If you have paperwork, pull it together when you’re ready to make your case. This is a good time to reread any contract or warranty to understand clearly what was promised. If photographs help tell your story, take a few.

•  Be calm and reasonable when you contact the company. Name-calling may make you feel better in the moment, but they probably won’t help you get what you want.

  Communicate clearly and courteously. State three things: what you bought and what you expected, what you got and why it didn’t meet those expectations, and the resolution you want.

When a company does step up to right a wrong, thank them! Most people think of posting reviews to complain but it’s just as important to speak up when a company does something good.

If after your best efforts, the company still isn’t willing to make a good faith effort to resolve the problem, BBB is here to help. Our dispute-resolution services are provided free. Sometimes just having a neutral third party can help you and the company find common ground.

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